Gay blood ban will stay, says transfusion service

The ban on blood donations from men who have engaged in sexual activity with other men will not be lifted in Scotland because it is a vital safety measure, say health officials.

Robert McDowall, a homosexual activist, had called on MSPs to change the rules. He was supported by homosexual lobby group Stonewall.

Stonewall Scotland’s Calum Irving said: “The Blood Transfusion Service is applying one rule for gay people and another for straight people.”

But Scotland’s blood transfusion service has told MSPs that the rules cannot be changed for safety reasons.

Keith Thompson, the service’s national director, said that sexually active gay men are at an increased risk of acquiring blood-bourne sexually transmitted infections such as HIV and syphilis.

Under current guidelines, a man cannot donate blood if he has ever had oral or anal sex with another man (even if he used a condom).

The National Blood Service says that lifting the ban could “result in a fivefold increase in the risk of HIV-infected blood entering the blood supply”.

Reasons for the ban

A position paper from the National Blood Service says: “The criteria for blood donors across all of the UK Blood Services are agreed by the Department of Health’s Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood, Tissue and Organs.

“In order to assure the continued safety of the blood supply, we currently ask those in groups shown to have a particularly high risk of carrying blood-borne viruses not to give blood.

“These include men who have ever had sex with men. The reason for this exclusion rests on specific sexual behaviour (such as anal and oral sex between men), rather than the sexuality of the person wishing to donate.

“There is, therefore, no exclusion of gay men who have never had sex with a man nor of women who have sex with women.”

The position paper outlines the medical reasons for this policy, including: “While safer sex, through the use of condoms, does reduce the transmission of infections, it cannot eliminate the risk altogether.

“Men who have sex with men continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV and account for 63% of HIV diagnoses where the infection was likely to have been acquired in the UK.

“Epidemiological evidence in the UK also shows that there has been a significant increase in sexually-transmitted infections which can also be blood-borne, such as hepatitis B and syphilis, among men who have sex with men.

“Between 2002 and 2006, for example, there has been a 117% increase in syphilis infections in men who have sex with men.

“Research shows that completely removing the current exclusion on blood donation from men who have sex with men would result in a fivefold increase in the risk of HIV-infected blood entering the blood supply.

“While changing deferral to one year from the last sexual contact would have a lesser effect, it would still increase this risk by 60%.”

The Terrance Higgins Trust, the UK’s largest HIV and sexual health charity, says: “We support calls for the National Blood Service to regularly review their policy on who in the UK is allowed to give blood in the light of new technology and scientific evidence.

“However, we will wait for the results of any such reviews before deciding what changes, if any, should be implemented.

“We believe that the current policy of the National Blood Service is justifiable and was based on the best available evidence when it was drawn up. Unless a subsequent review finds that risks to the blood service have changed the current policy is sensible and pragmatic.”